11 June 2009

China’s SSBN Force: Transitioning to the Next Generation

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael Chase, “China’s SSBN Force: Transitioning to the Next Generation,” Jamestown China Brief 9.12 (10 June 2009).

China’s undersea deterrent is undergoing a generational change with the emergence of the Type-094, or Jin-class, which represents a substantial improvement over China’s first-generation Type-092, or Xia-class, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). Launched in the early 1980s, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) single Xia-class SSBN has never conducted a deterrent patrol and is equipped with relatively short-range (1,770 km) JL-1 SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles). In contrast, China may build five Type-094 SSBNs, which will enable the PLAN to conduct near-continuous deterrent patrols, and each of these second-generation SSBNs will be outfitted with 12 developmental JL-2 SLBMs that have an estimated range of at least 7,200 km and are equipped with penetration aids. Although the transition to the new SSBN is ongoing, recent Internet photos depicting at least two Jin-class SSBNs suggest that the PLAN has reached an unprecedented level of confidence in the sea-based leg of its strategic nuclear forces. Indeed, China’s 2008 Defense White Paper states that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is enhancing its “nuclear counterattack” capability. With the anticipated introduction of the JL-2 missiles on the Jin and the deployment of DF-31 and DF-31A road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), China is on the verge of attaining a credible nuclear deterrent based on a ‘survivable’ second-strike capability.